Police chief, others ease 1st-day jitters as Fayette students start new year

P.G. Peeples welcomes students to first school day of year

President and C.E.O. of Urban League of Lexington P.G. Peeples greeted students to their first school day after summer while riding a bus nicknamed "Cupcakes" to the new Coventry Oak Elementary school.
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President and C.E.O. of Urban League of Lexington P.G. Peeples greeted students to their first school day after summer while riding a bus nicknamed "Cupcakes" to the new Coventry Oak Elementary school.

Third-grader Trinity Buckner was waiting at the bus stop shortly before 7 a.m. Wednesday at Trent Boulevard and Niagara Drive when Lexington Police Chief Mark Barnard walked up, gave her a lunch box and told her he would be riding her school bus to Veterans Park Elementary on this, the first day of school.

“It felt really good to me; I was really excited,” Trinity said.

“I'm loving this,” April Golackey, Trinity's grandmother, said. “Who would have ever thought this.”

More than 41,000 Fayette County Public Schools students and 2,800 teachers started the new school term Wednesday. Parents and caregivers had to shake off the summer routine to help the kids get to class. Some community leaders lent a hand.

Barnard read the children a book, “First Day Jitters,” on the bus to school.

Young readers assume they are listening to a story about a student named Sarah who is nervous about the first day, but it turns out that Sarah is a teacher.

Barnard told the students that they had no reason to be nervous. “We'll introduce each other and take care of each other.”

Barnard said it’s important that Lexington police officers do their part to help students.

“The more they are learning, the more educated they are, the less they will turn to violence,” the chief said.

Lexington Fire Chief Kristin Chilton rode to Ashland Elementary, reading a book called “The Fire Cat” about Pickles the Cat who was always in trouble until firefighters rescued him from a tree and he found a home at a fire station.

Chilton said she gave fifth-graders a fire education quiz and they answered all of her questions correctly.

Chilton said she told students, “Your attitude on the first day of school can set the stage for the year.”

P.G. Peeples, president and CEO of Urban League of Lexington, rode the bus to Coventry Oak Elementary, one of Fayette County’s two new elementary schools that opened for the first time Wednesday.

“It was like Mardi Gras, there was so much excitement” on the bus from students, said Peeples.

Coventry Oak Principal Shamiah Ford described the morning as “unusually smooth” and said within an hour of school starting, “everyone is settled down and ready to go.”

Lisa Deffendall, school district spokeswoman, said that across the district “nothing out of the ordinary” had occurred as of 5 p.m.

Ford said Coventry Oak school staff made sure they welcomed everyone with a smile, started immediately to build relationships with students and their families and went over routines and expectations.

Getting ready for the first day “was about putting initial structures and systems in place,” Ford said.

Nyundah Freeman brought her daughter Hazel, a fourth-grader, to Coventry Oak on Wednesday. Freeman said she left the building excited about the new school.

“I believe in the Fayette County Public Schools system and there’s going to be a close student-to-teacher ratio,” said Freeman, who noted that classrooms were “congested” at her daughter’s previous school.

At Coventry Oak, she said, teachers are going to have “one-on-one time with the student.”

Principal Sarah Woodford said the first day could not have gone better at Fayette County’s other new school, Garrett Morgan Elementary on Passage Mound Way.

“We are over-planners at Garrett Morgan. Our over-planning paid off. It could not have gone more smoothly. It was just sheer joy to see the faces of our kids after almost a year of planning.”

Samantha Dollar, who brought her son Mason to kindergarten, was impressed: “They just welcomed him with open arms.”

“We want to be a high-performing, high-achieving school,” Woodford said. “Every facet that that entails, to how we treat children, to greeting them in the morning to how we approach curriculum design, is included in our work here.”

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